Congratulations to Stephanie Lee Goldhahn and Daniil Kolmin on their ballerina wedding! As professional ballet dancers, the pair were engaged for over three years, struggling to raise funds for their big day and find time off between their busy work schedules. Finally, they decided to enter a bridal competition, hoping for a miracle. It came in the form of a first prize of $20,000 toward purchases from specific Australian bridal vendors, enabling them to create the wedding of their dreams. The special moment was held at the Wandin Valley Estate boutique winery in the Hunter Valley on the 27th of January.
Stephanie, a dancer from Wollongong who completed her full-time training at Ballettschule Theatre Basel in Switzerland, met and fell in love her husband, Daniil, a Russian ballet dancer, while working in the same ballet company in Europe. They later toured and worked together with the Imperial Russian Ballet and are currently based at the National Theatre in Serbia. Dance Informa caught up with the newlyweds to discuss their unique romance.
When you first met, you didn’t just have the usual nerves to contend with, you also had language difficulties. Tell us how you overcame them.
“When we first met, we didn’t really speak to each other; we were just colleagues. Daniil had been in the company for awhile prior to my arrival, and I was new out of school, so I felt intimidated to approach him. He was already self-taught in English, a bit rough around the edges, but I made sure to teach him ‘Aussie English’, which he picked up pretty well. We used to watch The Block and MKR to help him with everyday Australian lingo. It helped a lot, and now we both hang out for the upcoming seasons every year!”
“I tried to communicate and invited Stephanie to dinner a few times, which was my way of breaking down our communication barriers. We discovered that we both had similar interests and enjoyed being adventurous when trying new food. I would ask what her favourite dishes were, then try to learn how to cook them for her using YouTube.”
“One funny incident happened when Daniil invited me over for dinner and a movie. For this dinner date, he had borrowed his neighbour’s projector and picked up some pizzas from his favourite Italian restaurant. In the early days, I had mentioned to Daniil that I had made some Italian friends while I had been living in Switzerland. When we started watching the movie, I realised that something from our previous conversations must have gotten lost in translation because the entire movie was in Italian! He had found an Italian movie with Russian subtitles thinking I spoke Italian! I thought it was very sweet that he had gone to so much trouble.”
Daniil, when and how did you know that Stephanie was the one? How about you, Stephanie?
“From my first view, I knew I was interested in getting to know Stephanie. For me, it means something if you feel from the beginning that you want to get to know someone and you have an instant connection. Slowly, after we started to meet as friends and become comfortable with one another, I realised that she made me happy every time. I decided that I wanted this happiness for the rest of my life.”
“I knew Daniil was the one after we moved into our first apartment together. He just had a very caring nature and always wanted to look after me. We always seemed to be laughing and having fun. One day, it just felt like he was the one. There was a calmness yet excitement for the future with us.”
How did Daniil propose?
“We were both living and working in a ballet company in Estonia at the time, and I had asked for a ring for my pinky for Christmas. It was the Christmas break of 2013, and Daniil had invited me on a little road trip on his car through Latvia to Lithuania to meet a family he lived with while working with the Lithuanian National Opera. For me, it was a great honour, as he considered this family like a real second home to him, and I was accepted by them.
It was Christmas night, and before joining the family for dinner we exchanged gifts. That’s when I discovered that Daniil had bought a different kind of ring, an engagement ring, and he asked me to marry him on Christmas!”
“I had taken her to the jeweller earlier and bought the engagement ring secretly. I carried it with me in my bag waiting for the right moment to propose. Christmas Day came, and I felt the time was right.”
Tell us about the challenges you have both faced as busy, touring dancers trying to get married after three years as an engaged couple? What about in terms of meeting each other’s families?
“A major challenge for us (even before we became a couple) is that we are so far from home, and working in this industry with very little income, sometimes you have to choose not to return home just to save money. In the year of our engagement, though, we were looking for a change. We felt that Estonia had given us enough of what we needed, and we wanted to continue to pursue our careers elsewhere in order to grow and learn new things. We needed a new challenge.
We were both fortunate enough to be offered touring positions with the Imperial Russian Ballet for Australia and New Zealand. This was perfect timing for us! Daniil got to meet my family from all over Australia while we were on tour. It was a great way to introduce my new fiancé to family and friends, while showing him my home country for the first time!”
“At the beginning of our relationship, we had to meet each other’s families via Skype. It’s how it is when you live so far away from home. We did, however, get the opportunity one summer break to visit my parents in Russia, and I was so happy to be able to introduce Stephie to them.
We were engaged for three years, and it was hard to wrap our head around the idea of how to make our wedding happen. We wanted to be married, of course, but it just seemed like with our careers, financially, and with the distance and our families and friends living around the world, how could we make this happen? This is what I love about Stephie’s creative thinking — she had an idea of how she could make it happen, and she did.”
Tell us about the bridal competition. How did you find out about it? How did you find out you had won? What does it mean to you both?
“Daniil and I had been engaged for awhile, and there were a lot of family and friends who kept asking us when we would have the wedding. As we are working in a very low income job and travel to either of our homes is also very expensive, we just did not have the money, even for a small wedding!
We explored different options and avenues looking for a way to make it happen. I decided to google ‘wedding competition Australia’, and up popped the Australian Bridal Industry Academy (ABIA) Bride and Groom (BAG) competition. For your chance to ‘win your wedding’, you had to answer questions about why you liked certain vendors, as well as somehow stand out creatively. I thought, this is it! We have to do this, and we have to think outside the box! The competition was held over three months, and over those three months we created a blog detailing the story of our meeting, wedding tips and a video of our work. There were a few other creative entries, so we were trying our hardest to stand out from the crowd!
The winners were announced on ABIA’s Facebook page on the evening of 27 April 2016 (it was morning for us in Serbia). Daniil and I woke up that morning anxiously awaiting the announcements, refreshing while eating our breakfast before work. My family in Australia was also watching the live Facebook page, and so were Daniil’s parents in Russia. The runners up were announced, and then our names came through on the video as the major prize winners! We both sat there in shock! Then we popped a bottle of champagne and called our families, sharing a few happy tears before heading off to work.
This was an amazing gift, not only for us but for our families, as it gives everyone the opportunity to come together and celebrate our marriage — something we never thought possible! We’re really glad that we explored different avenues in order to be able to have such a wonderful celebration to share.”
How would you describe your tastes, and how did this influence the plans for your wedding?
“We both have similar tastes, so it was very easy and natural for us to combine forces to plan our special wedding day. We both like delicious food and wine, and we both knew our wedding had to reflect this. Our dream before winning the competition was to be married at a winery. We had checked out a few during our holidays one year in Australia, but realised this would be completely out of our budget and that we’d probably have to settle for a small intimate family wedding instead. So when we won the bridal competition, we could not believe that we would be able to fulfil a dream that we thought would be completely impossible.
Our wedding reflected our love of quality food and wine and beautiful Australian nature (we love being outdoors with natural beautiful views). It was a bit rustic, but still refined with a little bit of an old-fashioned glamour sense to it.”
Do you think it has been an asset having a dancer as a partner? Did you always think you would fall in love with another dancer?
“We both think that we are an asset to each other, not just because we share a love of dance but in the sense that we both have creative qualities that help us think outside of the box. As dancers, we share the same struggles in our financial lives, but this has also made us who we are today. It also makes us think creatively in finding ways to grow as individuals rather than just being ‘dancers’.
Neither of us believed we’d fall in love with another dancer, and we both weren’t looking for another dancer. We didn’t seek each other out because of dance but more because of our love of common activities outside of dance. I think that is why we found each other — we both needed an escape and someone who would share our interests outside of the ‘ballet life’.”
“Yes, we both think it is healthy to keep work at work and have a separate life outside of the theatre. Even finding friends outside of the theatre helps one to broaden the mind and share in ‘real world’ experiences. Sometimes you can get stuck in one way of living or work, and ballet can be an especially obsessive career choice. I love cooking and photography, and Stephanie has a very creative mind and likes to write. We like to combine our talents and see what interesting projects we can come up with in our spare time.”
What are your strengths and weaknesses as dancers and as a couple? How do you help each other?
“We both come from very different dance worlds, and I think our backgrounds provide us with different forms of knowledge that we can share with each other in terms of corrections to help each other improve. I think that this also translates into our everyday lives, as we have different life experiences, yet still share the common experience of moving away from home at a young age to pursue a career in ballet. I think ultimately our similarities and differences make our relationship more dynamic.”
Do you share any other passions other than dance?
“We love really good food and wine and trying new things. We love to be adventurous and travel. I think our curiosity and desire to learn give us strength as a couple.”
What are your plans for the future as a couple? As dancers?
“We hope to continue dancing for awhile – seeing different countries and cultures while doing what we love has been a great learning curve for us, not just dancing-wise but in life in general. We’d both love to one day live permanently in Australia, and we’ve printed out some of our engagement photos with the backdrop of Sydney to remind us of our goals of where we want to be.
To have one or both of us working in an Australian ballet company is one of our dreams. We’ve both always said we’d like to own our own business. Daniil would love to follow his love of food and open a wine bar or restaurant celebrating the beautiful fresh produce that Australia has to offer. We also have dreams of opening our own dance school in Australia one day.
We planned our wedding from overseas and had less than a month in Australia in person to put everything together – we hadn’t even seen the venue, and I still hadn’t tried on a dress! So we’d like to say a big thanks to the friends and family who served as our trusted eyes and ears while we were away. We would also like to say a big thank you to ‘Brides by Francesca’, who were very understanding and fitted me in for several dress fittings. I found my dream ‘Berta’ bridal gown there. Thanks to Bella Belle for my wedding shoes; Donhall and Bell, and Daniel Wellington for styling Daniil’s shoes and accessories; Jenny Yoo and thepeachbox for dressing and styling the bridesmaids; and Tea Princess and Glitzerella for dressing and styling my flower girl. We really couldn’t have done this without winning the ABIA bride and groom competition.
We are so grateful to have been able to do something we thought to be impossible. And now we realise nothing is impossible – you can always find a way!
By Grace Gassin of Dance Informa.